Top Instructor Do’s and Don’ts from NWSMA Black Belts

Black belts

A bit of introduction here: NWSMA holds a “black belts only” class once a month. We split the class time between practicing advanced material and talking about what it means to be a black belt and an instructor.

They are assigned a reading the week before class, and this month I gave them an excellent piece from Black Belt Magazine, titled, “How Karate Sensei Can Avoid Mixed Messages in the Dojo.

It’s part of a growing trend towards holding martial arts instructors more and more accountable for the examples they set in the dojo. I asked the black belt class to respond to this article by offering their top 3 do’s and don’t’s for martial arts instructors.

Some background

The rise of commercial martial arts in America led to a flowering¬†of “McDojos” and “belt factories,” schools with watered-down martial arts, aggressive business practices, and, frankly, questionable raison d’etre. I won’t bore you with details–if you want to know more about what a McDojo looks like, you can look here.

Since we all want to avoid becoming a McDojo, here are the black belts’ top 3 do’s and don’ts for instructors. I compiled them all into a general list, as much as possible using their own words from the notes I took.

Top Black Belt Do’s and Don’ts

NWSMA Black Belts’ Top Do’s

  • keep your composure
  • maintain seriousness of purpose, even when breaking the rhythm of the class
  • be able to inspire people to try harder, do better
  • be able to control the mood of the class, from excitement to the level of focus
  • be able to work well with different people
  • be patient
  • set a good example
  • make sure they [the students] understand you
  • use short, simple terms to explain techniques
  • try to involve other instructors in what you’re doing
  • make sure you follow through
  • balance information and application
  • make sure all [students] are included
  • make a point of practicing alongside students–there’s a time to watch and a time to do
  • teach students emotional coping strategies,¬†like how to say “maybe next time” when they’re disappointed
  • remember that “trying your best” looks different for each person

NWSMA Black Belts’ Top Don’ts

  • don’t push beyond [an individual student’s] limits
  • don’t use a condescending or patronizing attitude
  • don’t let out-of-control moments spiral further out of control
  • don’t be close-minded to other applications of a technique
  • never let your emotions take over
  • don’t disrespect anyone, especially be aware of how you’re teaching adult students
  • don’t teach too much/so much that they don’t absorb the information
  • don’t go too fast
  • don’t overreact
  • don’t teach advanced things to lower ranks too often [we decided that occasionally challenging students with stuff above their level was good]
  • don’t argue with other instructors
  • don’t expect anyone to get it on the first try
  • don’t get frustrated
  • don’t let a student give up, end an activity after a good (or better) attempt
  • don’t give empty praise
  • don’t bring a bad attitude to class

These all come from ladies and gentlemen between the ages of 16 and 26, all of whom have been training for over a decade and hold provisional, 1st, or 2nd degree black belt ranks.

I thought it was a remarkably mature and impressive list, so I wanted to share it with our readers! Feel free to share a comment or add to the discussion. :)

And before you think we get too serious, here’s an idea of what sometimes, maybe, might happen in black belt class:

black belts

What happens in black belt class, stays in black belt class… :P

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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